This New Service Wants to Make Online Shopping Even Greener — and It’s Free to Use

updated Apr 22, 2021
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A taped-up cardboard box sitting on an orange chair inside a home, waiting to be mailed
Credit: Sarah Crowley/Apartment Therapy

Do you ever get overwhelmed by the amount of cardboard you have to deal with? This is exactly what pushed entrepreneur Nate Faust to try to find a smarter, more sustainable alternative to trash cans and hallways congested with cardboard boxes. 

One night, he was taking his trash out, carrying four to five trips’ worth of cardboard boxes when he stopped to look down his street and realized that everyone on his street also had recycling bins full of broken-down boxes. He noticed how unsustainable this practice was, both for the consumers who had to deal with a huge amount of cardboard but also for the environment. So the co-founder who also worked as the head of US eCommerce Supply Chain and Logistics at Walmart launched Olive, a service that consolidates your online orders into weekly deliveries and sends all your goods in cardboard-free reusable totes. 

Credit: Olive

Their app and chrome extension currently allows its users to combine their orders from more than 100 fashion brands and websites into one reusable package. They operate as an affiliate to the brands available on the Olive platform, so when a customer purchases something using Olive, the company makes a commission from that purchase. The model is free to consumers, and is currently available in over 6,000 zip codes across the U.S. with a focus on the west and east coasts. By receiving online shoppers’ individual packages and combining them, Olive makes sure that the packaging is recycled properly and delivery couriers can cut on last mile stops. If an item you have needs to be returned, you can request a pick-up of your tote.

Why would I want to consolidate my deliveries?

Olive’s goals have two phases, says Sarah Sathaye, Olive’s Chief Revenue Officer. The first goal is to consolidate packages, make sure packaging gets recycled properly, and cut down on last-mile stops. That, she said, “really helps to limit the amount of carbon emissions that are driven by e-commerce,” adding that last-mile transportation is “a bigger environmental problem than the cardboard itself.” Predictions from the World Economic Forum estimate that the 100 biggest cities in the world will see 36 percent more delivery vehicles on their roads by 2030.

The company’s bigger goal is even more ambitious: to completely eliminate single-use packaging entirely. In order to do that, they are connecting with brands and retailers in the hopes to integrate them directly with Olive fulfillment centers, so that they can directly use the reusable two-way shippers. 

According to Harold Brooks, a distinguished visiting professor for fashion practicum at New York University, a decreased number of packages can be appealing for many consumers. However, he believes that action needs to be bundled with education and awareness. 

“In order for this practice of bundling shipments to reduce our carbon footprint and promote sustainability to gain strength, much information and education needs to happen for the majority of internet purchasers to embrace,” he told Apartment Therapy.

While they plan to diversify across categories, Olive launched with a focus on apparel and accessories; according to a Statista report, Americans made 29.5 percent of their fashion purchases online in 2020. There has also been a shift in the fashion industry to adopt more sustainable approaches, Forbes noted, an effort driven by both companies and consumers alike. While it can be expensive to invest in sustainable packaging options, Brooks noted that many brands can see the benefits of more sustainable operations — but they often need guidance and education. 

“Shipping is an expense that is only growing as a percent of their expense structure,” he said. “Companies are often hesitant to make these steps voluntarily, and must be shown how it can positively impact their bottomline to embrace this change.”

But what if I’m used to two-day shipping?

Because Olive consolidates shoppers’ packages, there may be a lag in the time spent between purchasing an item and when you receive it — in other words, it’s in direct conflict with the two-day shipping standard that many consumers have now come to expect. But according to Sathaye, given that many fashion retailers offer a standard three-to-five-day delivery schedule, customers shouldn’t feel any sort of delay overall. While she does not believe that Olive will replace the demand for next-day or two-day shipping, she hopes that the company will inspire a mindset shift so that customers are more environmentally conscious and also realize that it is easier for them to receive consolidated packages.

“Consumers [usually] have an occasion for a purchase,” she noted. “But a lot of times, that is not immediate.” She also cited past feedback that she saw from JetBlack customers regarding the same-day delivery model that was often available in cities like New York. Often, they said that saying that the speed was a bit too much — and that too much convenience almost made the service inconvenient. 

According to Brooks, one of the biggest challenges about online purchases is trying to gage how much people are willing to wait for their deliveries. 

“We have become spoiled as consumers wanting what we purchase to be received as soon as possible,” he said. He believes there could be a space for companies like Olive to find their niche, but it won’t be without work. “It will take time to educate and ween the consumer off the immediacy of receipt we have come to enjoy,” he said. “As consumers we often buy something when we think of it, and hence want to enjoy the project immediately. ‘Are we willing to forgo this gratification by a few days?’ is the challenge for every internet company.”

According to Olive, the gratification of making a dent in emissions, however small, is worth the extra planning. And as Sathaye notes, e-commerce isn’t just here to stay — it’s still growing. And sometimes all it takes is a reminder to people and retailers that sustainable options are available if you are willing to look out for them.